Joan Hieta remembers the first hours of 1970 like they were just yesterday.
Hieta was the patient in a room at the Cowichan District Hospital where a nurse opened the curtain of a window early on New Year’s Day and saw a UFO hovering outside.
She said she was sleeping after giving birth to her third son and was awakened when the nurse called for her colleagues to come and see the UFO some time after midnight.
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“The nurse was hollering out to other nurses, so I got up and looked out the window as well,” Hieta said.
“[The UFO] was slowly coming towards the window until it was just a few feet away and I swear I saw panels with instruments and lights on them and two black figures as well, although they were not as clear. It then tilted and began to move away. It seemed real enough to me and to everyone else that was in the room and it shook us all up.”
The UFO sighting is the inspiration behind a new collectible silver coin that is being produced by the Royal Canadian Mint.
The scene when the nurse first opened the curtain in the hospital room is depicted on the $20 rectangular collectible coin’s colour-over-engraved reverse side.
The coin is the sixth in the mint’s Canada’s Unexplained Phenomena series — one of its most popular themes — and all previous coins in the series sold out quickly.
The one-ounce, 99.99 per cent pure silver $20 coin depicting the sighting is being sold by the mint for approximately $140.
But a more down-to-earth explanation for the sighting has come to light since the mint announced the new collectible coin earlier this month.
Dan Hughes, who has lived in the Cowichan Valley since 1969, said the incident was the result of a New Year’s prank by a local couple that has developed into a full-fledged UFO hoax over the years.
He said Les and Renee Palmer, who have both since died, lived in a house that bordered the hospital’s property on Gibbins Road at the time.
Hughes said that, as part of New Year’s activities, the couple made a cross from two pieces of very light wood and taped them together.
They then attached a string to the four ends of the wood pieces and placed small candles near the ends before covering the whole structure with a light-weight plastic dry-cleaner bag that was tied at the top where the coat hanger is usually positioned.
Hughes said a hair dryer was help up underneath until the bag filled with hot air and then, with the candles lit, the contraption was released and it went up in the air and towards the hospital.
He added that the dry cleaners’ bag that was used had some patterns on it that could be mistaken for people, or aliens, if seen from a distance.
But Hieta is reluctant to accept this explanation for the UFO.
“It seemed so real and I can’t see how anyone could create something that could look that real,” she said.
“Maybe it was a prank, but I think it would have taken quite a feat to make it.”